Arlene is the national director of LIFE & LEGACY, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.


Using After-Lifetime Giving to Build Your Endowment

Endowments are no longer a luxury, but rather a critical component of every school’s financial stability plan. Building an endowment, to provide a consistent source of annual funding for your operations, takes planning and commitment. School boards must make it as much of a priority as annual fundraising and donors must be given the opportunity to contribute to the school’s long-term sustainability in a way that makes sense for them. While there are donors who have the financial capacity to contribute to endowment campaigns with current cash assets, many school parents, teachers, alumni and supporters are unable to or comfortable doing so now.

This is why, for the past 9 years, the LIFE & LEGACY program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation has been encouraging day schools and other organizations to make legacy giving a priority. Legacy giving allows every donor to be a philanthropist. Donors commit to leaving a specific dollar amount, or percentage of their assets, to your school upon their passing. Most of the time these commitments are larger than any gift the donor is able to give during their lifetime.

To date, as part of LIFE & LEGACY, 70 day schools have secured more than 3,400 legacy commitments with an estimated value of $110.5M in future gifts, of which almost $6 million has already been placed in endowments. More than 22,000 donors have made legacy commitments, valued at over $1.2 billion, to the 750 Jewish organizations across North America who are part of the LIFE & LEGACY network.

Getting Started

So how does a school begin to establish a legacy campaign? First, you need people power, a team of four to six individuals who are prepared to make a legacy commitment themselves and who are willing to ask others to join them. We recommend legacy teams consist of at least one Jewish day school professional and several lay leaders. To set up a process that will continue in perpetuity, it is helpful to have legacy giving be part of the portfolio of a board member so that there is always someone who is ensuring legacy giving remains a board priority.

With your team in place, the first task is to develop a legacy plan, a document that will serve as your road map for launching and sustaining your legacy initiative. Integrating legacy giving into your school culture isn’t a short-term campaign. It requires a culture shift, and that takes time. Our goal is to make legacy giving normative behavior, so every donor who gives annually understands they also can leave a legacy.

In developing your plan, start by assigning each team member a role in addition to having legacy conversations. These roles range from overseeing marketing the concept of legacy giving to your school community, reporting to the board of directors on your legacy initiative, sending out handwritten thank you notes to those who make a legacy commitment, stewarding donors throughout their lifetime and keeping track of legacy commitments and other documents both in paper files and electronically. Someone on the team should be designated as the team lead to make sure everyone else is fulfilling their responsibilities and your legacy plan is implemented in an effective way.

Next, develop a case statement. This statement is intended to remind donors of the impact your school has had on their life, the lives of their children, grandchildren and the community and encourages them to take a step that will ensure that this impact continues for future generations. The case statement is shared with donors as part of the legacy conversation, and it also serves to get all your team members familiar with the language you want to use to promote the concept of legacy giving to your school community.

Once your case statement has been finalized, create a list of target audiences to contact for legacy conversations. The best prospects are your most loyal donors, people who have given to you consistently for five years or more, no matter the level. For your school community, this list would include current and former members of your board of directors, parents who continue to contribute to the school even after their children have graduated, community members who have been long-time supporters, volunteers and alumni who remain in contact. Then list individuals and families who fall within each of these categories, and identify which legacy team member is the best person to contact them.

Next Steps

One way to make legacy giving normative behavior is to continually drip the message that your school accepts legacy gifts just like local hospitals, arts organizations, colleges and universities. Think about the way you communicate with your school’s supporters. Find ways to include the legacy message in your school newsletter, on your website, in email signatures, email blasts and direct mail. Is there a place in your school where you can visibly promote legacy giving, on a poster or digital display? Are there individuals who have already made endowment gifts whom you can interview and then share their stories? Where can you list those who have made legacy commitments to encourage others to join them?

Donor stewardship is how we show our appreciation and gratitude to donors, keep them engaged and remind them that their legacy commitment is a good investment. As part of your legacy plan, think about methods of stewardship that you can integrate into your school culture, so they happen year after year. Donors have noted in surveys that the stewardship they most value are handwritten thank you notes and personal phone calls. Make sure donors receive these upon making a legacy commitment and at least annually until their gift is received. Invite donors to events at the school so they can see the impact their legacy gift will have. Gather your legacy donors together at least once a year to thank them for their commitment, and honor them among your general school community.

You will be successful in securing legacy commitments if you set a goal and work to achieve it. Aim to get 6 legacy commitments in your first year, 12 the next, 18 the following until you get to 50 or so. Then plan to secure 4-6 commitments each year in perpetuity so you are always securing new commitments for your endowment pipeline.

Launching the Program

The final part of your plan is an implementation strategy, putting all these pieces together on a timeline so everyone is aware of what is going to take place each month and whose responsibility it is to make sure the task is completed. Now you have a strong foundation upon which to begin your initiative.

Notify your day school community that you are launching a legacy initiative, and if they have included the school in their estate plan to please let you know. Begin listing the names of those who have made legacy commitments somewhere in the school building, on your website and in newsletters. Assign prospects to team members and begin having legacy conversations.

Over time, your list of legacy donors will grow and ultimately, your endowment will grow and provide your school with the funding you need to continue to impact future generations of Jewish leaders.

For more information on launching a legacy initiative, check out Legacy Giving: A Step-By-Step Guide, produced by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and LIFE & LEGACY.